Swearing, Lactic Acid, And Exercise

Exercise, Study Add comments

I remember the morning clearly.  I called my little sister on the way home from the gym and said, “You know that sweet southern girl I was telling you about?  She said the F-WORD during her workout this morning!

The sweet, slow-talking girl I was talking about is Deirdre Reid, one of my first clients in Carson City:

And the exercise that made her swear?  Negative Chin Ups:

Why do I bring this up?

Well, two reasons:

  1. To tell an embarrassing story about Deirdre
  2. I needed a way to introduce a study on swearing and exercise

If you exercise hard at all, you’ve probably at least felt like swearing (even if you didn’t out loud :))

And here’s something cool: A study from last August showed that swearing helps you tolerate pain!

Stephens R, Atkins J, Kingston A. (2009). Swearing as a response to pain. Neuroreport. 2009 Aug 5;20(12):1056-60.

The pain from exercise comes from a build-up of lactic acid.  All this means is that you’re exercising and producing lactate faster than your body can remove it, and that’s a GOOD THING.

That lactic acid does make your muscles burn and prompt a few swear words, but it has some cool benefits for your body transformation, such as:

  • Increased testosterone production (good for men and women)
  • Increased Human Growth Hormone (burns fat and keeps you young!)
  • Helps you use carbohydrates more efficiently
  • Fuels your brain during exercise

The abstract from the swearing and pain study is, well…. abstract:

Although a common pain response, whether swearing alters individuals’ experience of pain has not been investigated. This study investigated whether swearing affects cold-pressor pain tolerance (the ability to withstand immersing the hand in icy water), pain perception and heart rate. In a repeated measures design, pain outcomes were assessed in participants asked to repeat a swear word versus a neutral word. In addition, sex differences and the roles of pain catastrophising, fear of pain and trait anxiety were explored. Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. However, swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise. The observed pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.

Luke’s Take Home Message:

You should be working out so freaking hard that you feel like swearing to relieve the burn!

4 Responses to “Swearing, Lactic Acid, And Exercise”

  1. Deirdre Says:

    Hey! F-ing awesome! I heard about this study on NPR a few weeks ago. Fascinating! and I have tested it to be true to get that last rep! ;-)

  2. John Says:

    I hear lots of f bombs muttered during our workouts. Deirdre, Me, Luke telling me i’m being f-ing lazy.

  3. Luke Says:

    Deirdre – Don’t gloss over the truth, I’ve heard you swear while I’m just demoing the next exercise!

  4. Luke Says:

    John – I do what I can!